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How Chinese tourists are reinventing Swiss hospitality: Hold the cheese, butter and salt

January 3, 2013
January 3, 2013

It starts out well, or well-meaning at least. Chinese outbound tourism is the fastest and biggest growing sector in travel, as outbound tourists rose to 70.3 million in 2011, and are expected to rise to 82 million this year, up 17%. And everyone wants these hordes of Chinese travelers spending money, especially the recession and debt crisis beset European countries.

From hotels, airports, malls, and retailers hiring Manadarin speaking concierge services, to countries easing visa norms and doing joint marketing agreements with China, the efforts run the gamut. And most of the time, in the name of being sensitive to the Chinese cultural needs, some tourism organizations and companies resort to cultural shorthands, or cliches, while dealing with the guests.

For instance, Switzerland, a sophisticated tourism marketer as far as countries go, is in a Chinese marketing overdrive: As its mainstay German travelers are shying away, Chinese are among the fastest-growing groups, populating the Alps and buying its famous and pricey watches.

It recently came out with detailed norms and guidelines for its hotel industry on working with Chinese travelers, titled “Swiss Hospitality for Chinese Guests.” And the document, while very detailed and useful, resorts to plenty of cliches about Chinese culture in general, some surely useful, and some borderline offensive. We’ve extracted the best below:

  • Treat your Chinese guests respectfully. They are proud to be citizens of the People’s Republic of China as well as of the economic and political success of their home country. Discussions on politically sensitive matters like human rights, regional independence movements, Taiwan, etc. should be conducted with great care and diplomacy – your Chinese counterpart often does not feel at ease discussing controversial matters.
  • Many Chinese understand only little English, German or French: Chinese signalling at the most popular tourist spots of the destination as well as for generally important information (airports, train stations, cable cars, museums, entrance, exit, bathrooms, etc.) is a must.
  • Chinese are “last-minute travellers,” they don’t really plan their trip, and they don’t like to wait: Show flexibility with regard to the suggestions of your Chinese guests and provide fast response and service.
  • Chinese visitors have high expectations: Show as much flexibility as possible and take into account their requests.
  • If possible do not assign rooms on the 4th floor or containing a “4” (4, 14, 24, 34, etc.) in the room number to Chinese travellers as this number is associated with death. In particular room numbers containing “6”, “8” or “9” or being located on the 6th, 8th, and the 9th floor are considered to be lucky rooms.
  • Provide clear operational instruction in Chinese about Pay-TV and indicate that the fee is not included in the room rate or the package.
  • Assign your Chinese guests rooms with twin beds: The members of the group travelling together will, in general, not have known each other before starting the trip.
  • Ensure fast check-in and check-out service: Chinese get rather impatient if they have to wait.
  • Chinese love to drink hot tea or hot water at almost any time of the day (or night): Provide an electrical water cooker or a thermos containing hot water as well as free tea and coffee in the rooms. Hot water or hot tea is usually served at lunch and dinner as well.
  • Chinese travel with little luggage: Provide a basic selection of accessories for daily use, such as shampoo, tooth brush and tooth paste, in their room.
  • Chinese prefer to spend their free time in a group: Take this fact into account, when proposing leisure activities during their trip.
  • Chinese dine early (at about 7 p.m.) and go to sleep rather late: Let them know what kind of evening entertainment the destination offers (shows, movies, bars, etc.)
  • Chinese are evening and weekend shoppers: Make sure your shop is open when they come and adapt the opening hours.
  • Shopping is also a social event: Be prepared to deal with a whole group of customers at once and entertain them with some small talk.
  • The Chinese love variety: therefore, offer to your Chinese guests several small dishes rather than just one big dish. Put emphasis upon using different kinds of food stuffs (meat, vegetables, eggs, etc.).
  • Chinese eat quickly: try and serve the food all at the same time and please don’t take it as a mark of disrespect when the Chinese leave the table immediately – as soon as they have put down their cutlery  or chopsticks.
  • Avoid using too many milk products (cream, cheese, butter) and be moderate in the use of salt.
  • The Chinese like foods which are liquid and soft. However, baked goods are not very common in China.
  • Soft-boiled eggs are not so much appreciated. So please boil them longer.
  • Hot drinks (and often simply hot water) are preferred to cold drinks.
  • A basic selection of Chinese food, such as rice, stewed or fried vegetables and sliced meat (chicken, beef, veal, pork) or fish should be available at all meals.
  • Reserve a big, if possible round, table for your Chinese guests: The group travelling together will, in principle, prefer to eat together.
  • Chinese like to combine different dishes and tastes: It is appreciated if all courses are served together. The soup will, in principle, be served at the end of the meal.
  • Together with the classical European cutlery, chop sticks – placed on the right side of the bowl or dish – should be provided for each person. Chop sticks should never be stuck into the food – this will be associated with bad luck or even death. Otherwise the usual European tableware and decoration will be appreciated by your Chinese guests.
  • Chinese eat early: Breakfast at 7 a.m., lunch at noon and dinner at 7 p.m. are quite standard eating hours for Chinese tourists.

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